Ravens' Focus on Turnovers Is Paying Off as Defense Leads League in Interceptions

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After using their bye-week break to "self-scout" their play so far, the Ravens have identified a set of areas that could be improved as they head into the stretch run of the 2017 season.

But some areas don't need improvement, starting with their defense's ability to create interceptions.

The Ravens are No. 1 in the league with 13 picks through nine games.

That's one more interception than the Los Angeles Rams, two more than the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles, and more than twice as many as 13 of the 31 other teams.

"We stress it, harp on it, creating those turnovers, creating that advantage for our team. It's fun," Ravens safety Eric Weddle said Wednesday. "We obviously need to try to continue getting those turnovers."

The Ravens have seldom lacked for interceptions over the years, especially when Ed Reed, a legendary ballhawk, roamed their secondary. But Reed was long gone when the Ravens set a franchise record low with just six interceptions in 2015. Perhaps not coincidentally, they also posted their worst record under Head Coach John Harbaugh that season.

When Weddle signed with Baltimore as a free agent after that season, he immediately noticed the organization was determined to rectify the situation.

"It was a point of emphasis when I got here, getting more turnovers," he said.

New practice routines were introduced, designed to improve the defensive backs' ball skills. They were seen tracking golf balls through the air on hot summer mornings in training camp.

The goal was simple. "Just catch the ball when it comes your way," Weddle said.

The secondary rebounded impressively, tying for the league lead with 18 interceptions in 2016. The organization then continued to bolster the back end of the defense during this past offseason. Cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson were signed as free agents, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey was drafted in the first round.

Between those additions and the play of cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is ranked among the top corners in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens have a top secondary.

When asked Wednesday to break down what's producing the picks, Head Coach John Harbaugh praised Chris Hewitt, the team's secondary coach. But he mostly praised the players.

"It's the guys," Harbaugh said. "Chris Hewitt has done a great job with them. The system is built really well, the way we run our coverages. But mostly it's the guys back there. Eric and Tony are doing a great job of disguising (coverages). Our corners are making plays in tight coverage. We've had some batted balls. We've been disruptive with our pass rush. Those are generally the things that lead to interceptions."

Weddle and Carr are tied for the team lead with three picks, followed by Smith and Lardarius Webb with two apiece. Among linebackers, C.J. Mosley has two and Tyus Bowser has one.

"There's so much that goes into any interception," Weddle said.

For instance, he picked off a pass against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 5, he said, mostly because cornerback Maurice Canady had excellent coverage of a receiver on a downfield route, forcing Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota to throw the ball "over the top" rather than right at the receiver. The pass sailed and Weddle grabbed it.

"If Mo (Canady) didn't have good coverage, (Mariota) could have banged it in there on a line, but he had to (throw) it over his head and that gave me a chance to get there and make play," Weddle said.

His pick led to a Baltimore touchdown, and the Ravens obviously are hoping to accumulate more.

"I told Jimmy (Smith) that as good as he's been playing, I need him to be better these next seven games … take that approach, we all do, to get accomplished what we want to get accomplished," Weddle said.

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